What’s it all about, Alfie?

Well, this is a turn up for the books!

I’ve been privileged to meet and speak to some wonderfully talented people during my time as a sportswriter for the Yellow Advertiser.

Premier League footballers, iconic managers, Test cricketers, I’ve even interviewed a Hollywood A-lister, brushed shoulders with Prince Albert of Monaco. Oh, and I almost forgot, The Only Way Is Essex’s, Mark Wright!

But I never saw this one coming!

Admittedly, It’s not unusual to see my eldest son, Alfie at Essex County Cricket Club’s media day. I’d imagine he’s a fairly familiar face in some quarters, collecting autographs and pictures. 

It’s not unusual to see my eldest son, Alfie at Essex County Cricket Club’s media day

But today, The Big Lad is here on media duties as an Essex player and following a quite surreal turn of events, it’s me that is interviewing him!

Alfie was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and subsequently qualifies to play for the Essex County Ability team.

His involvement with the county came about following a chance conversation with Head of Cricket Operations, Dan Fiest.

“I’d mentioned Alfie’s diagnosis. Meanwhile, Dan had noticed that Alfie – a leg spinner in with Garon Park-based Old Southendian & Southchurch – had done reasonably well last season, taking a series of wickets in the Essex Cricket League. 

He suggested Alfie should try for the Ability squad, under the guidance of Patrick Ward and his team of coaches, Mark, Graham, Andy and Martin. The rest, as they say, is history. Albeit, recent history.

I think it is fair to say that Alfie had Essex County Cricket Club thrust upon him. He first attended when just several months old. Yours truly ferrying him to games in his pram. 

He can only have been four or five years old when captured by the Sky Sports cameras, chomping his way through a sandwich during a one-day game with Northamptonshire at Chelmsford.

“I can actually remember biting into the sandwich, thinking it was bread and butter, but it had strawberry jam in it. I think I’m pulling a bit of a face on the television picture,” he told me.

Captured on camera – A young Alfie, and sandwich, caught by Sky Sports during a match at Chelmsford

Alfie recalled some of his favourite memories as an Essex supporter: “Watching the West Indies and India at Chelmsford. Virat Kohli was playing for the Indian side. I think Paul Walter might have got him out? 

“Of course, my favourite memory is finals day at Edgbaston in 2019. The atmosphere was amazing and for Essex to win the trophy so dramatically off the last ball was brilliant. We were all going mad up in the stands. 

Alfie celebrating Essex’s dramatic 2019 T20 triumph at Edgbaston

“Seeing us win the County Championship was brilliant, but Edgbaston shades it for me.”

Alfie has no shortage of cricketing heroes: “I can vaguely recall being fascinated while watching Monty Panesar on TV. But having started as a wicketkeeper, my first Essex hero was James Foster. 

“I was lucky enough to meet James several times at Chelmsford. He was great for Essex and always took the time to talk to me. As a fan, that was fantastic.

“These days, as a spin bowler I watch Simon Harmer closely. He’s a fantastic player. I still watch the Shane Warne videos. I was very sad when I heard that he’d died. An absolute legend of a cricketer.”

Alfie’s first taste of competitive cricket came in year seven at Shoebury Hgh School: “My PE teacher, Mr Seaman invited me to try out for the cricket team. I was a little bit anxious but must have done something right because I was selected to play in our first game against the year eights.

“On the day of the match, our wicketkeeper dropped out. I think I just volunteered and for a while, it went from there.”

Alfie was soon appointed captain of the school team: “None of us had played proper matches before. I just tried to encourage everyone. We didn’t win many matches but I loved representing the school. I struggled in the classroom. Cricket was the thing I could do and enjoyed doing.”  

He joined Old Southendian & Southchurch, initially playing youth cricket. But he was swiftly drafted into the clubs’ sixth team, making his debut against Chelmsford at the Victory Sports Ground.

Despite taking a wicket with only his second delivery in adult cricket, a 13-year-old Alfie found his first season tough going: “I wasn’t really a wicketkeeper and couldn’t bowl fast. I didn’t know what I was and neither did the club, but the sixth team were usually short of players so I got a run in the team?

“At the end of the season, I think they were ready to ditch me. I remember sitting in my room, wondering what to do while spinning a cricket ball in my fingers. It felt quite therapeutic. A bit like a fidget-spinner. 

“I looked up a few of Shane Warne’s coaching videos on YouTube and then tried to replicate what I’d seen in the garden. It seemed a comfortable action and the ball was going close to the stumps.

“Luckily, come winter nets, our sixth team captain, Ricky Stevenson had stuck up for me and said I deserved a chance. I could have given it all up after that first season, but Ricky had become a bit of a mentor for me. He was always available to talk and pass on advice. He is my biggest cricketing influence at the club. Wherever I play in the future and whoever for, I won’t forget that.”

Topping the Essex honours board after taking 6/7 for Old Southendian & Southchurch at Wickford

Having discovered his niche, Alfie provided one or two notable performances, topping the Essex honours board after taking 6/7 for Old Southendian & Southchurch at Wickford as well as becoming the youngest-ever player to take five wickets in an innings for the Lord’s Taverners.

Alfie was presented with a signed shirt after taking 5/14 for the Lord’s Taverners

Last season, he claimed 50 wickets across all formats before linking up with the Ability squad during the winter: “My Old Southendian teammate, Matt Thomas was already with Essex. That was really helpful. We travel to training together. He was able to help me settle in. Matt is a very good quick bowler. I’m pleased to see he has done well and recently picked up several awards for his hard work last season.

Alfie, pictured with his Essex County Ability squad and Old Southendian & Southchurch teammate, Matt Thomas

“The coaches, Patrick, Mark, Graham, Andy and Martin have been great. The drills have helped me. The sessions have been enjoyable. It is competitive but everyone helps each other because we want to improve and be the best we can for Essex. I know I still have plenty to learn.

“Training on the Cloudfm County Ground pitch was a great experience. I looked around at the empty stands and tall floodlights. I thought about all the world-famous cricketers and teams that had played out there. It was a bit surreal. I think it was a boost to all the boys.

Following in the footsteps of me and my dad, Alfie is the third generation to follow the county in our family: “I never met my Grandpa, but know he was a huge Essex supporter going back to the Leyton days. I’d like to think he is looking down on me, proud that I’m playing for the club,” he added.

“Signing for Essex is an honour. When we were given our new kit, I remember looking at myself in the changing room mirror trying to digest what was happening.”

Another life-long supporter at the club is opening batter, Nick Browne. The 31-year-old explained what playing for Essex means to him and provided Alfie with some sound advice.

“It was always been my dream, just to play one game for Essex and now I’ve played over a hundred,” the Leytonstone-born left-hander explained.

“I do still feel the pressure because I’ve got a lot of friends who love Essex and wanted to play for the club as well. I still feel pressure playing but kind of see it now as enjoyment.

“I’m happy and very, very lucky to play for the club I’ve loved my whole life. Hopefully, I can finish my career here – That is the goal now – and win more trophies. 

Brown added: “First of all you’ve just got to enjoy it. Without sounding like a cliche, take every game as it comes. Enjoy playing cricket and continue to score runs, take wickets and catches.

“It is an honour to play for Essex. Keep the legacy of Essex going and leave the shirt in a better place when you eventually finish.”

Alfie asks the questions to life-long Essex fan and opening batter Nick Browne

Alfie has since appeared in each of the Essex County Ability teams opening matches, taking 2/20 during a nine-run victory over Yorkshire at Harlow Town Cricket Club. 

Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]